The Random Self


Look, I know all this has all been said before, in some format or other, but anyway. Humour me. Bear with me if you can. Just suppose – just for the sake of the argument – that you could send messages via Brownian motion. And that you could also receive messages from it (which of course follows logically from our first supposition). I know this goes against the very idea of Brownian motion, which is that it is purely random, but let’s just say that you could. Let’s just say that you could discern secret messages hidden in Brownian motion. Where would that leave us? What would that mean?


OK so you can’t really do that – I appreciate that, I really do. I get it. There’s no secret message in randomness – the very idea is ridiculous. But there’s a way around this, a kind of a dodge. Maybe you can start to see where I am going with this! No matter if you can, I will continue. The point that I am (very obviously) going to make is that you can extract a message from randomness by employing a filter without knowing that you are employing a filter. We select ‘evidence’ that supports our unconscious ‘hypothesis’. Straightaway, therefore, we can see that this means that we can extract any message that we want to from Brownian motion, from randomness, from our environment, just so long as we don’t let ourselves know that we are searching for it. We just have to hide our biases from ourselves, and what could be easier than this?


Bingo. Bob’s your uncle. The door is wide open to wherever you want to go with this. It’s like magic. ‘Hey Presto’ you say, and with a flourish of your magician’s cloak you pull whatever you want to find out of your Trick Top Hat. How does he do it, people will ask, their jaws dropping with amazement. Encore. Show us another one. And for my next trick, etc, etc. Whatever. You get the picture.


This is of course all so obvious but there are two more points that I am about to make that are not quite so obvious. Perhaps not so obvious at all. Point Number One is that you can actually pull a whole self-consistent world out of the Top Hat – it’s not just rabbits we’re talking about here, in other words. Point number two is a bit more tricky. Point Number Two has to do with the way in which by positively selecting out one message we negatively select out the antithesis to that message at the same time. By saying YES very emphatically we are implying NO, in other words. One pole invokes the other, one extreme invokes the other. So when we extract a positive message out of randomness we are at the same time creating the negative version of that same message and the two would immediately cancel each other out if we let them. We avoid this – as everyone knows – by ‘focusing only on the positive’. This is of course why positive thinking is so popular – we’re trying as hard as we can to avoid our prize thesis being cancelled out by the antithesis which we have created at the very same time, which we have created inadvertently, so to speak, by the very same trick.


So as soon as we create the message we have to work as hard as we can to ward off the nemesis to this message, which would – if we let it – wipe out in one stroke everything that we have fought so hard to create. That’s the good guy versus the bad guy scenario, right? That’s Batman versus the Joker, isn’t it. Holmes versus Moriarty. God versus Satan. Or whatever. Take your pick. We all know that one, right?


So actually there’s three points here not just two. I forgot about the third one. Point Number Three is this – when we talk about extracting messages from the Brownian motion pot (which is our basic environment) we’re beating about the bush rather. We’re prevaricating. What we really talking about (when we talk about ‘discerning a secret message hidden in randomness’) is discerning a self.  There’s no self in self-cancelling randomness but we’re nevertheless discerning one! We’re pulling out evidence to support our hypothesis of a self. We’re pulling ourselves out of the Trick Top Hat! That’s got to be the cleverest trick of all, right! That’s a blinder. That’s a corker.


But – wait for it – there’s a spanner in the works! There’s a big fat fly in the soup because at the same time as creating (by sheer trickery) the self, we have inadvertently created the nemesis to that self. We have – without realizing what we have done – brought our own nemesis into existence and you know what that means, right? To paraphrase what it says in the Wikipedia entry, ‘Our nemesis is the inescapable agent of our downfall’…


So where does this leave us, that’s what I want to know? What’s the long and the short of it? What’s the upshot? How are we to take this particular revelation? (These questions are all entirely rhetorical, by the way, as if you didn’t know…)



Art: Enantiodromia by Leo Moro





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